Scientists from Switzerland have cracked the code of a mysterious 2,000-year-old papyrus document with ancient Greek written on it.
The strange artefact, which has mirror writing of ancient Greek on both sides, has baffled experts for centuries. The papyrus has been in the possession of the University of Basel in Switzerland since the 16th century.
Specifically, the papyrus contains an ancient medical text that describes “hysterical apnea,” according to Huebner, who says that the text is either by the Roman physician Galen or an unknown commentary on his work.
Scientists harnessed ultraviolet and infrared technology to decipher the papyrus, discovering that it is not a single papyrus, but several layers of papyri glued together, according to the University of Basel. A specialist papyrus restorer was also brought in to separate the sheets.
“This is a sensational discovery,” said Sabine Huebner, professor of ancient history at the University of Basel, in a statement. “The majority of papyri are documents such as letters, contracts and receipts. This is a literary text, however, and they are vastly more valuable.”
Researchers were able to compare the papyrus to the Ravenna papyri, historic documents from the Archdiocese of Ravenna in Italy. These include ancient manuscripts from Galen that were written over and re-used in the medieval era. “The Basel papyrus could be a similar case of medieval recycling, as it consists of multiple sheets glued together and was probably used as a bookbinding,” explained the University of Basel, in its statement.
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